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Many Kansans ‘in suspense’ over voter registration intend to submit proof of citizenship

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, August 11, 2013, at 7:18 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 11, 2013, at 7:18 p.m.

Some are irritated by it, and some suspect political motivations lie behind it.

But people who find themselves officially “in suspense” because of a new law requiring them to provide proof of citizenship before they can vote aren’t feeling too suspenseful.

Most said they won’t have any problems proving their citizenship, and they plan to get around to it before the next election, when they get the time.

A 2011 law pushed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach requires people registering to vote for the first time to prove they are American citizens by showing a birth certificate, state-issued ID, passport or other document.

The registrations of nearly 14,000 voters in Kansas are in limbo because they haven’t provided such documents to the election office or to driver’s license offices when renewing their licenses.

The numbers change daily, but as of midweek, 2,856 people in Sedgwick County who registered to vote after the law went into effect on Jan. 1 were “in suspense,” according to the county election office.

Most – 1,888 – registered as unaffiliated voters, 505 as Republicans, 431 as Democrats and 29 as Libertarians.

Not all of those on the list failed to provide proof of citizenship. There are other reasons for being “in suspense,” such as filing an incomplete application or being underage.

Many on the list in Sedgwick County recently turned 18 and look forward to voting for the first time.

Cooper Colglazier is among them. He registered as part of a project in his honors government class at Wichita East High School in the spring. He suspects all the other students who registered in class are in suspense with him.

He is annoyed by the law.

“I would say it’s not necessary, to be honest. But I haven’t really read it, so I am probably not the most informed,” he said.

Colglazier, who registered as a Republican, said he hasn’t taken the time to hunt up a birth certificate, but he’ll get around to it eventually.

“It isn’t a huge priority to go through all this stuff. Maybe closer to the election,” he said.

Sarah Coffey, 18, also is fresh out of high school. She registered as a Republican in March without turning in proof of citizenship and just hasn’t gotten around to providing it yet.

She likes the law.

“I think it is a a really good law,” she said. “I feel like you need to be a citizen to vote.”

Monte Anderson, 52, voted regularly until he received a DUI conviction in 2007. He hates the fact that he wasn’t able to vote for the past few years.

He thought re-registering would be a “slam dunk,” he said.

“Then I found out I was going to have to jump through hoops,” he said. “I don’t know why my citizenship would be questioned.”

Anderson, who registered as an unaffiliated voter, said the law appears to be a move by Kobach to make voting more difficult.

“It sounds to me like it’s an effort to keep the Democratic voter registration down,” Anderson said. “In the words of my uncle: ‘He should be run out of town.’ ”

Audrey Beard, 24, of Haysville is “in suspense” following her return from two years in Hawaii working for the Air Force. But she plans to submit her birth certificate, and she is OK with the new law.

“I agree it’s a little inconvenient, but it’s a good policy to implement it,” said Beard, who registered as a Republican.

Another suspended voter, Casey Bennett, a 26-year-old engineer who was recently laid off at Cessna, said he submitted a copy of his passport as proof of citizenship just recently but hasn’t heard back yet from officials.

Bennett, who registered as a Democrat although he said he tends to vote for candidates not necessarily based on their party affiliation, said he doesn’t disagree with the law, but he thinks there is a political agenda behind it.

“They keep saying it’s to prevent voter fraud,” he said, “but there’s been so few cases of voter fraud, it’s really not that necessary. The truth is, they’re doing it because it’ll get rid of more people who vote Democratic.”

Heather Mohr is an occupational therapist and a mother of four children who hasn’t had time to send in her proof and complete her registration.

Her initial thought when she registered last month was that the law is ridiculous and inconvenient, she said. But providing proof won’t be a problem.

“I have good intentions of trying to follow up,” said Mohr, a Republican. “I’m just in a position right now that I don’t have the time.”

People who are “in suspense” may mail or deliver proof of citizenship to the county election office by the close of business on the day before the election or submit it electronically by midnight on the day before the election. Those who don’t and vote anyway have to cast provisional ballots that are then not counted because they aren’t fully registered.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has said his office is evaluating whether the law is enforceable in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a similar law in Arizona. Kobach has said that Kansas’ law differs enough from Arizona’s that the court’s ruling won’t affect it.

Frank Rohr Jr., 29, of Derby, who lived in Texas for awhile, is “in suspense” after he registered in April as an unaffiliated voter. He said he plans to submit his birth certificate, but he is suspicious about the law.

“I don’t know if there is a connection with all the talk of immigration and the talk of Obama not being a citizen,” he said. “I guess I just wonder, ‘Why now?’ ”

He doesn’t like that there are different voting laws across the nation. It casts the voting process into doubt, he said.

“Even on the state and local level, it seems difficult to trust whether your vote is really counted,” Rohr said.

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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